[Tweeters] quasi-pelagic birds in "Skagit"

Gary Bletsch garybletsch at protonmail.com
Sun Jul 31 09:43:10 PDT 2022

​Dear Tweeters,

This message will probably not reach the people who ought to see it, but here goes.

There are eBird reports coming in for seabirds observed in Skagit County. I suspect that most if not all of these quasi-pelagic rarity alerts that I am seeing are the result of birders on "puffin cruises" out to Smith and Minor Islands. They might be from birders in kayaks or small boats as well. Smith and Minor Islands are in Island County, quite far away from the Skagit County line.

The recent Tufted and Horned Puffins are, I believe, being seen in the kelp beds near these two islands. That is the reliable spot where the birds have been seen dating back to the 1980's. Over the years, the birds have also been seen in the waters of San Juan County.

There have been very, very few authentic sightings of puffins of any kind in Skagit County. In fact, on eBird, there is just one accepted sighting of the Tufted Puffin. In addition, a couple of friends of mine saw Tufted Puffins on two occasions at Williamson's Rocks (Skagit County), but my friends don't put their sightings on eBird. That makes three TUPU sightings, all time. Meanwhile, there are only two accepted sightings of Horned Puffins in Skagit County, all time.

One recent eBird checklist had the location as "Skagit County," but the push-pin ended up near Guemes and Cypress Islands. Another checklist was located simply as "Skagit County," with the push-pin placed by the northeast corner of Burrows Island, barely off the shoreline of Skyline in Anacortes. I suppose it is possible that the rare seabirds included on these checklists might have occurred at those locations, but it is very unlikely.

I believe that birders are just putting their eBird push-pin in whatever spot they happen to be in when they click the phone, rather than using the existing hotspots. There are separate eBird hotspots for both Smith and Minor Islands. Those would be good choices for birders on those cruises.

The late Wayne Weber used to put his sightings out there in a "private hotspot" called Smith and Minor Islands, presumably because he felt that it would be trivial to make separate lists of observations for two islets so close together. That is exactly the same way that I have always done my checklists out there. I have always harrumphed about the proliferation of hotspots into micro-sites that require numerous separate lists of birds every two hundred meters or so!

I am guessing that the birders who are misplacing these pushpins might be from out of the area, or perhaps casual birders who don't take the time to locate things with requisite precision. I wish the puffin boat(s) had a placard attached to the mizzenmast, showing which hotspots to use!

Oh, well, pretty soon I won't be dealing with puffin alerts--they are not found in Chautauqua County, New York!

Yours truly,

Gary Bletsch

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